Apr 28 2009
But not just any old beast. I want a nice, sweet, bombproof pony. And that’s no easy find because ponies can be real stinkers. (*fyi to civilians: ponies do not grow into horses. Small ponies stay small.)
Sometimes the naughty ones are easy to spot: an ad with a pony who’s too cute for words, dirt cheap, and offered for sale with “saddle & bridle included.” Odds are that thing pitched or stomped some kid senseless.
Ponies can be very sweet but most owners know what they’ve got and are reluctant to let a good one go. I once judged a show where a pony did everything to keep his rider on — short of walking on his hind legs and carrying her. The little girl barely stuck to the saddle and eventually popped off halfway through her jumping phase. But that pony knew his job. Without any direction he finished the rest of the course, down to his closing circle, before exiting the ring.
Ponies also tend to be cunning, savvy and whip-smart — much more than their larger relations. And some use their power for good while others succumb to devilish instincts. In a barn full of horses, it’s the pony who will escape his stall and free everyone else, or crawl on his knees under a fence to reach greener grass.
Training a pony under saddle is equally challenging. Large ponies are ridden by adults but often it’s a pint-sized pilot who must wrestle with the littler model with the cunning mind. Some horse people believe that being bitten, tossed off or otherwise terrorized by a wicked little beast is merely a life lesson. Kids learn to swallow pride, use finesse, and at times eat dirt.
I’ll never forget fox hunting in Ireland…which for most Americans is less about hunting and more about surviving to see the end of the day. Ireland’s country is tough and trappy, obstacles are huge and imposing, and the pace is fast. Thankfully a cocktail or two usually precedes most meets, otherwise sober, I’d never agree to such half-brained riding.
Anyway, one particular day a little reedy kid around 8 yrs old parted ways with his gray mount while clearing an obstacle. The pony had approached a stone wall and hesitated before launching into the air. Pony went one way, kid went the other.
“Ah, fer fook’s sake! Whatya doin on the ground?” his father — who followed on foot — hollered not unkindly. “Get yer arse back in that sat-el!”
Shortly afterward the boy and pony approached another wall at a good clip. At the last moment that impish gray thing slammed on the brakes, spitting out his rider over the top at lightning speed. And then the pony just stood there, blinking innocently in that way that ponies do, as if to say, “What are you doing down there?”
The boy climbed out of the mud and approached his mount, gathering the reins before he promptly clouted the pony smartly over the head with his whip. The pony jumped back. “That’ll fookin’ learn ya!” the kid announced before he stepped back into his stirrup.
The point? That the Irish are skilled at riding and swearing because they start early at both. And also of course, that ponies are naughty!
British cartoonist Norman Thelwell captured these pint-sized personalities best and published several books depicting pudgy girls and their plucky, mischievous mounts. He was not a horseman but was inspired by two hairy ponies, “small and round and fat and of very uncertain temper” who grazed near his house.
“They were owned by two little girls about three feet high who could have done with losing a few ounces themselves…. As the children got near, the ponies would swing round and present their ample hindquarters and give a few lightning kicks which the children would side-step calmly as if they were avoiding the kitchen table, and they had the head-collars on those animals before they knew what was happening.
I was astonished at how meekly the ponies were led away; but they were planning vengeance – you could tell by their eyes.“
I don’t mind if the kids wind up with some sly-eyed pony who teaches them a few life lessons about patience, humility and how to hang on. But first, they should earn their sea legs on some weathered, seen-it-all, I’m-just-waiting-to-die, kind, furry soul, who plods along and teaches them to love ponies.
Before they want to clobber them.
(for more examples of thelwell ponies check out this link.)